Ben Jones, Dorian McGhee, James Stewart, and
Jamey Nicholas in The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever
(© Stuart Levine)
Ben Jones, Dorian McGhee, James Stewart, and
Jamey Nicholas in The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever
(© Stuart Levine)
You're likely to both laugh and cringe at The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever, now at the Actors' Playhouse. Written and directed by Joe Marshall, this politically incorrect backstage comedy is full of lame jokes and badly acted performances -- some of which are even intentional.

The play revolves around a gay community theater in West Hollywood that is putting on its annual Christmas show. However, there's more drama offstage than on as bruised egos, diva behavior, a heterosexual romance, and the Second Coming of Christ take center stage.

The various characters are rendered in a cartoonish fashion, with several conforming to stereotypes such as the swishy homosexual or the angry black man. Yet despite the large number of complications introduced into the plot, the intensity of the production never really builds. A quicker pace could help, but part of the problem lies in the writing, which just isn't as funny as it needs to be.

There are some genuinely amusing bits as Marshall satirizes amateur theatrics, particularly in the over-the-top audition scene and segments of the actual pageant enacted within the play (including a Brokeback Mountain moment between the two shepherds who are following the North Star). Unfortunately, the "real" characters in the script are oftentimes performed with as little skill as the community theater players that Marshall is sending up.

Jason B. Schmidt, as playwright Rod, indicates his intentions far too broadly, without ever truly embracing the outsized emotions that define his character. Adam Weinstock, as Rod's partner Manny, often says his lines as if by rote -- including during moments when he is supposed to be surprised by unfolding events. Ryan Wright, as techie Jim, can be very funny, particularly at the beginning of the play as he tries to familiarize himself with gay slang. However, he's not very convincing when called upon to show Jim high on marijuana.

There are a few performers who take their slimly written characters and take them as far as they can go. Ree Davis is a stitch as the partially deaf and extremely flatulent Martha. Bryan Zoppi is amusing as the fey actor who is cast as Joseph, and proceeds to try out a few ideas that are not in the script. Alexandra Dickson is pitch perfect as the butch lesbian who plays the Angel in the pageant. But unfortunately, the majority of the actors don't bring this level of intensity to their performances.